The Case For Last Generation Theology, Part 4: The Scope of Biblical Salvation

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The Case For Last Generation Theology, Part 4: The Scope of Biblical Salvation

In our first article, we noted the following statement by the apostle Paul regarding the authority of all Scripture in spiritual matters:

 

From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:15-16).[1]

 

We noted how this passage not only affirms the authority of the entire body of Scripture, both Old, and New Testaments but in particular that of the Old Testament relative to the doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus. This is because, in all likelihood, the Old Testament writings were the only Sacred Scriptures available during Timothy’s formative years. Paul’s young protégé, like the Bereans, described in Acts 17:11, had no other objective standard by which to test doctrinal or moral claims.

 

The Old Testament Basis for Biblical Righteousness by Faith

 

Especially important for our present discussion is the fact that Paul declares the Scriptures Timothy was taught from his childhood as “able to make [him] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:15). This means that the doctrine of righteousness by faith (or salvation by faith) as taught by Paul and his fellow apostles is first and foremost a product of the Old Testament. Paul affirms this point in the first chapter of the book of Romans, where his statement that “the just shall live by faith” is prefaced by the phrase, “it is written” (Rom. 1:17), this verse being an authoritative reference to Habakkuk 2:4.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Where Does Our Righteousness Come From?

 

But this isn’t Paul’s only foundational reference to the Old Testament in his discussion of righteousness by faith. In Romans chapter 4 Paul makes the following reference to one of David’s Psalms, which especially enables us to understand a key point in the current Adventist salvation controversy—what in fact Paul means when he says human beings are not saved by works (Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9):

 

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Rom. 4:6-8).

 

This passage, of course, is taken from Psalm 32:1-2:

 

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

 

This last portion of Psalm 32:2 is especially significant, as it calls our minds to both Old and New Testament passages which speak of the conditions necessary in order to receive divine forgiveness. Putting the above two passages together, it becomes clear that not only does God impute righteousness “without works” on the part of the believer: He does this only for those “in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalm 32:2).

 

In both Old and New Testaments Jesus is declared to be without guile (Isa. 53:9; I Peter 2:21-22), as is the final generation of Christians at the second coming of Christ (Zeph. 3:13; Rev. 14:5). We understand further David’s statement about the guileless being the ones qualified to receive God’s forgiveness when we consider the following Old Testament passages which further spell out the conditions for receiving mercy and pardon:

 

If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and heal their land (II Chron. 7:14).

 

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth, and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Prov. 28:13).

 

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:7).

 

Jesus also made it clear there were conditions for receiving His Father’s forgiveness:

 

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14-15).

 

And then we have the following statement from the apostle Paul himself:

 

For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified (Rom. 2:13).

 

Putting all these verses together, it becomes clear that humility, confessing and forsaking sin, a guileless spirit, a willingness to forgive others, and harmony with the divine law are necessary in order to receive forgiveness, or justification, from God. When, by contrast, the Bible says we are not saved by works (Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9), it is speaking of self-produced, surface piety unrelated to conversion and God’s transforming grace (Rom. 2:17-23). We will consider this point in greater depth as we proceed.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Great Expectations

 

The Old Testament origin of Biblical righteousness by faith is further articulated in Hebrews, chapter 11, in its chronicle of the many Old Testament worthies who performed righteous deeds “by faith.” Perhaps the strongest of these examples is that of Noah, described in verse 7:

 

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his household, by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

 

How did Noah become an heir of righteousness by faith? By building an ark, saving his household from the Flood, and condemning the world by his example.

 

The Conditions of Eternal Life

 

Once we understand that Biblical righteousness by faith includes the works of sanctification made possible by the Holy Spirit (e.g. Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:6-8; Gal. 5:5; 6:15; Phil. 3:8-11; Heb. 11:7), it becomes clear that no conflict (or even tension) exists between the Bible doctrine of salvation by faith and the equally emphatic Bible doctrine that Spirit-empowered obedience is part of the conditions of salvation. Both Jesus (Matt. 7:21; 19:16-26; Luke 10:25-28) and Paul (Rom. 2:6-10,13; 8:13; Heb. 5:9) are clear that human salvation is conditional on obedience, though both are equally clear that only through heaven’s imparted power is such obedience possible (Matt. 19:26; John 15:5; Rom. 8:13).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Ellen White on Justification and Sanctification

 

Ellen White echoes the teachings of Jesus and Paul regarding the conditions of salvation in such statements as the following:

 

The lawyer asked Jesus what he should do that he might inherit eternal life. Jesus referred him to the commandments of His Father, telling him that obedience to them was necessary for his salvation. Christ told him that he knew the commandments, and that if he obeyed them, he should have life.[2]

 

When the lawyer came to Christ, saying, ‘Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’, the Saviour did not say, Believe, only believe, and you will be saved. ‘What is written in the law?’ He said, ‘how readest thou?’ . . . Here the false doctrine that man has nothing to do but believe is swept away. Eternal life is given to us on the condition that we obey the commandments of God.[3]

 

The keeping of these (ten) commandments comprises the whole duty of man, and presents the conditions of eternal life. Now the question is, Will man comply with the requirements? Will he love God supremely and his neighbor as himself? There is no possible way for man to do this in his own strength. The divine power of Christ must be added to the effort of humanity.[4]

 

His (the Christian’s) perfect obedience to all God’s commandments, opens to him the gates of the Holy City.[5]

 

The gospel that is to be preached to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples presents the truth in clear lines, showing that obedience is the condition of gaining eternal life. Christ imparts His righteousness to all who consent to let Him take away their sins.[6]

 

Thank God, He attends us every step of the way through, if we are willing to be saved in Christ’s appointed way—through obedience to His requirements.[7]

 

In the strength of God alone can you bring yourself where you can be a recipient of His grace, an instrument of righteousness. Not only does God require you to control your thoughts, but also your passions and affections. Your salvation depends upon your governing yourself in these things.[8]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Righteousness by Faith Controversy

 

Love cannot exist where the conversation of the professed people of God is largely made up of talk concerning the errors and mistakes of others. When this is done, the words of Christ are treated with indifference and contempt, as though frail, erring man had found some other way to heaven save the one appointed by the Lord—obedience to the commandments of God.[9]

 

God would have all make a practical use of the plain teachings of His word in regard to the salvation of man. If they are doers of the word, which is plain and powerful in its simplicity, they will not fail to perfect Christian character. They will be sanctified through the truth, and through humble obedience to it will secure everlasting life.[10]

 

Those who enlist in the army of Christ must in all things submit to His authority and consult His will. Implicit obedience is the condition of salvation. God’s law must be obeyed in every particular. It is our salvation to make His law our rule, His life our pattern, His glory our chief aim.[11]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Finding the Vibrant Life Through Constant Surrender

 

By accepting Christ as a personal Savior, men and women can stand firm against the temptations of the enemy. Human beings may have eternal life if they will accept the principles of heaven and allow Christ to bring the heart and mind into obedience to the law of Jehovah.[12]

 

Those who refuse the gift of Christ will one day feel the sting of remorse. Entire obedience to the law of God is the condition of salvation. Those who refuse this, who refuse to accept Christ, will become embittered against God.[13]

 

The terms of salvation for every son and daughter of Adam are here outlined. It is plainly stated that the condition of gaining eternal life is obedience to the commandments of God.[14]

 

The great gift of salvation is freely offered to us, through Jesus Christ, on condition that we obey the law of God.[15]

 

Christians should arouse themselves, and take up their neglected duties; for the salvation of their own souls depends upon their individual efforts.[16]

 

Self-denial is the condition of salvation.[17]

 

According to the Bible, this condition of obedience is met by both forgiveness (justification) for the believer’s past sins (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), by the regeneration through the Spirit included in the work of justification (Titus 3:5-7), and by the Spirit’s work of sanctification (II Thess. 2:13). (We will consider the scope and meaning of Biblical justification in a moment.)

 

The Bible is equally clear that both justification and sanctification are accomplished in Christian lives through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 10:29; 13:12,20-21). Ellen White, in the following statement, explains how the perfect obedience required by God’s law as a condition of salvation is met by both justifying and sanctifying righteousness:

 

The condition of eternal life is now just what it always has been—just what it was in Paradise before the fall of our first parents—perfect obedience to the law of God, perfect righteousness. If eternal life were granted on any condition short of this, then the happiness of the whole universe would be imperiled. The way would be open for sin, with all its train of woe and misery, to be immortalized.

It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God’s law. But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen, and we cannot make ourselves righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law. We have no righteousness of our own with which to meet the claims of the law of God. But Christ has made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and temptations such as we have to meet. He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.

More than this, Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as you do this, He will work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. So you may say, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. So Jesus said to His disciples, “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” Matthew 10:20. Then with Christ working in you, you may manifest the same spirit and do the same good works—works of righteousness, obedience.

So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ Imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.[18]

 

Notice carefully each of the points made in the above passage:

 

  1. The conditions of eternal life today are the same as those in Eden—perfect obedience to the law of God.
  2. Adam was able to obey the law of God with his unfallen nature.
  3. However, because our natures are fallen on account of Adam’s transgression, such obedience is not possible for us.
  4. Christ, however, has made a way of escape for us, through His sinless life and sacrificial death, thereby making it possible for Him to take our sins and give us His righteousness.
  5. For the believer, Christ’s life now stands in place of his past life of sin, and he is accepted before God just as if he had not sinned.
  6. More than this, Jesus changes the heart, abides in the believer by faith, and makes it possible for him to “manifest the same spirit and do the same good works” as He did—“works of righteousness, obedience.”[19]

 

Then she writes:

 

Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.[20]

 

Our ground of hope for what? Meeting the conditions of eternal life so clearly stated on the previous page—perfect obedience to the law of God.[21] And how are these conditions met by fallen beings, who lack Adam’s innate power for obedience? Through Jesus covering our past sins with His righteousness, and making it possible—by abiding in our hearts through faith—for us to obey as He did.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Debate Over Justification by Faith

 

Certain voices in contemporary Adventism appear to take serious exception to the above Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy statements. They would have us believe that “spiritual transformation . . . has no salvation merit,”[22] that “there is only one way to become righteous, and that is through Christ’s imputed righteousness,”[23] and that “the ultimate ground of one’s acceptance in the judgment is not the believer’s Spirit-enabled works but the righteousness of Christ.”[24] But the above-inspired statements, and others we will consider, make it clear that “the believer’s Spirit-enabled works” and “the righteousness of Christ” are one and the same thing. How can “spiritual transformation . . . [have] no salvation merit” in light of such verses as the following?

 

God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth (II Thess. 2:13).

 

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).

 

Sanctification is presented in the inspired writings as every bit the spotless righteousness of Christ as is justification, with neither depicted as inferior or superior to the other. The only contrast in quality and acceptability with God drawn in Scripture and the writings of Ellen White—illustrated so plainly in the above verse from Titus—is between self-manufactured righteousness on the one hand and both imputed and imparted righteousness on the other, as the following Ellen White statements bear witness:

 

So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the righteousness of Christ Imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit working in and through us.[25]

 

The proud heart strives to earn salvation; but both our title to heaven and our fitness for it are found in the righteousness of Christ.[26]

 

Elsewhere in Ellen White’s writings, our title to heaven is identified with justification and our fitness with sanctification.[27] Both, in the above statements, are identified with Jesus’ righteousness.

 

Acceptance With God

 

The apostle Paul writes in the book of Ephesians:

 

To the praise of the glory of [God’s] grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6).

 

Some in contemporary Adventism have come to believe that this acceptance is established through justification only, and not at all through sanctification. In a negative description of his past experience, one has recently stated:

 

I viewed justification as forgiving my past sins, but after conversion, I felt I needed to depend upon my sanctification as the basis of my continued acceptance by God. Since my works of obedience always seemed to fall short of the divine standard, I had no assurance of salvation.[28]

 

I came to realize that I do not undergo a work of cleansing in order for God to accept me; rather, I receive cleansing because He has already accepted me.[29]

One can argue, perhaps, about the meaning of acceptance; if one uses this term to refer to God’s love for the sinner, most assuredly we receive His work of cleansing in our lives because of such acceptance on God’s part. But if we are speaking of acceptance for salvation, we cannot but recall the words of Peter in the house of Cornelius, when the former declared that “in every nation he that feareth [God], and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:35). According to the Bible, God loves the entire world (John 3:16), but the entire world is not accepted by Him so far as salvation is concerned.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Can We Know that God Accepts Us?

 

Ellen White, speaking of imputed and imparted righteousness, declares that “the righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted.”[30] With this in mind, consider the following Ellen White statement regarding our acceptance with God:

 

The life and death of Christ on behalf of sinful man were for the purpose of restoring the sinner to God’s favor, through imparting to him the righteousness that would meet the claims of the law and find acceptance with the Father.[31]

 

Elsewhere she writes:

 

This (Ex. 19:7-8) is the pledge that God’s people are to make in these last days. Their acceptance with God depends on a faithful fulfillment of the terms of their agreement with Him. God includes in His covenant all who will obey Him.[32]

 

Many of those who claim to believe the testing truths for these last days, act as though God took no note of their disrespect of, and manifest disobedience to, the principles of His holy law. The law is the expression of His will, and it is through obedience to that law that God proposes to accept the children of men as His sons and daughters.[33]

 

There is no way back to innocence and life except through repentance for having transgressed God’s law, and faith in the merits of the divine sacrifice, who has suffered for your transgressions of the past; and you are accepted in the Beloved on condition of obedience to the commandments of your Creator.[34]

 

Through Jesus there is divine sympathy between God and the human beings who, through obedience, are accepted in the Beloved. Thus humanity conforms to the will of divinity, fulfilling the words, ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments.’ The commandment-keeping people of God are to walk in the sunlight of Christ’s righteousness, their countenances expressing cheerfulness and thanksgiving, joyful in the assurance: “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city.”[35]

 

Through obedience to all the commandments of God, we are accepted in the Beloved.[36]

 

Our faith requires us to elevate the standard of reform, and take advance steps. The condition of our acceptance with God is a practical separation from the world.[37]

 

One truly wonders how a faithful Seventh-day Adventist could disavow the belief that “[he] needed to depend upon . . . sanctification as the basis of [his] continued acceptance by God,”[38] when Ellen White—whom the author here quoted professedly believes—so clearly states that “in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.”[39]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Justification in the Gospels

 

Certainly, what we do in our own strength, apart from conversion, can avail nothing so far as salvation and acceptance with God are concerned. But the above-inspired statements from both Scripture and Ellen White are clear that the obedience produced by regeneration and sanctification is very much the condition for our being divinely accepted.

 

Biblical Justification: Its Scope and Substance

 

Recent critics of Last Generation Theology insist that justification “does not include the process of ethical transformation. Justification is accounting or reckoning a person righteous (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3-6), not making a person righteous.”[40] In another statement the same author writes: “Justification is a judicial declaration of acquittal, the opposite of condemnation (Genesis 3:15; Romans 5:16), and not an ethical condition.”[41]

 

But the Bible is clear that when God declares something to be so, it, in fact, becomes so. When God said, “Let there be light” at the creation, the Bible says, “And there was light” (Gen. 1:3). When Jesus said to the leper who came to Him for healing, “Be thou clean,” the Bible says, “And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matt. 8:3). Ellen White reflects this Biblical reality when commenting on Paul’s justification theology in the book of Romans:

 

At the creation ‘He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.’ He ‘calleth those things which be not as though they were’ (Psalm 33:9; Rom. 4:17); for when He calls them, they are.[42]

 

We already noted the Bible verses which clearly describe confession of sin, the forsaking of sin, and a willingness to forgive others as conditions for receiving God’s forgiveness (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7; Matt. 6:14-15; I John 1:9). Such conditions require a guileless, transformed heart. The above author who refers to Romans 4:3-6 should read the next two verses and go back to their source in Psalm 32, in which the one to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity is the one “in whose spirit there is no guile” (verse 2).

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Biblical Perspectives on Justification

 

In other words, both the prerequisites and the process of Biblical justification involve divinely-empowered inward change. Thus, Paul declares, contrasting self-generated works with the regenerating work of the Spirit, writes:

 

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

 

Ellen White, commenting on the meaning of divine forgiveness—which she identifies with justification when she writes that “pardon and justification are one and the same thing”[43]—makes the following observations about the experience of justification:

 

To be pardoned in the way that Christ pardons, is not only to be forgiven, but to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. The Lord says, “A new heart will I give unto thee.” The image of Christ is to be stamped upon the very mind, heart, and soul.[44]

 

Justification means pardon. It means that the heart, purged from dead works, is prepared to receive the blessing of sanctification.[45]

 

God’s forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” Psalm 51:10.[46]

 

By receiving [Christ’s] imputed righteousness, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we become like Him.[47]

 

The grace of Christ purifies while it pardons, and fits men for a holy heaven.[48]

 

Notice how each of the above statements identifies the Spirit’s inward transformation of the believer as part of the pardoning (justifying) process, not merely the result thereof. One must defy the simplest rules of grammar and syntax to read the above statements as teaching anything other than a definition of justifying righteousness as both declarative and transformative.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Old Covenant Brood

 

It is not correct to say, as one contemporary Adventist author claims, that according to Last Generation Theology “justification includes sanctification.”[49] But it is correct to say that the transformative phase of justification begins the sanctifying process. When all of the inspired evidence is taken into account, the best description of the difference between justification and sanctification is the difference between getting married and staying married—between the commencement of a relationship and the deepening and strengthening thereof.

 

The same critics of Last Generation Theology who deny the transformative aspect of justification insist that justifying righteousness doesn’t cover past sins only. One such critic speaks disapprovingly of the fact that,

 

some Adventists understand justification to mean ‘only the forgiveness of past sins when one first comes to Christ’ and that ‘after one’s initial justification, acceptance by God is based on Christ’s infused righteousness which makes one righteous and thereby acceptable in God’s sight.’[50]

 

Earlier we cited another author who writes as follows of his past, now-repudiated experience:

 

I viewed justification as forgiving my past sins, but after conversion, I felt I needed to depend upon my sanctification as the basis of my continued acceptance by God.[51]

 

But again, we recall Ellen White’s statement that “in order for man to retain justification, there must be continual obedience, through active, living faith that works by love and purifies the soul.”[52] In the same book she writes elsewhere, “It is by the continual surrender of the will, by continual obedience, that the blessing of justification is retained.”[53]

 

Recent decades in Adventism have witnessed the popularity in certain circles of a definition of justification as “a continuing umbrella,”[54] “overarching forgiveness,”[55] or “the umbrella of eternal grace.”[56] But neither Scripture nor the writings of Ellen White teach such a concept. No inspired statement assures the Christian that tomorrow’s sins are forgiven today. Since the Bible stipulates that sins must be both confessed and forsaken in order to be forgiven (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7), how can future sins be forgiven before they have yet been committed, much less forsaken?

 

Despite protests to the contrary, the writings of Ellen White are clear that the forensic (legal) covering offered by Biblical justification applies only to past sins and sins of ignorance. Consider the following statement, which we have noted already:

 

If you give yourself to [Christ], and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.[57]

 

Notice the supplied italics above: “sinful as your life may have been” and “had not sinned.” This is obviously referring to the past. The statement doesn’t say, “sinful as your life is and will always be on earth.” Nor does it say that “you are accepted before God just as if you won’t ever sin again.” Past sins alone are the statement’s focus. The same holds true in the following Ellen White statements:

 

Christ bears the penalty of man’s past transgressions; and by imparting to man his righteousness, makes it possible for man to keep God’s holy law.[58]

 

The law requires righteousness—a righteous life, a perfect character, and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God’s holy law. But Christ, coming to earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues me with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ.[59]

 

There is no way back to innocence and life except through repentance for having transgressed God’s law, and faith in the merits of the divine sacrifice, who has suffered for your transgressions of the past; and you are accepted in the Beloved on condition of obedience to the commandments of your Creator.[60]

 

It should also be noted, of course, that the Bible says God winks at the times of our ignorance (Acts 17:30) and states elsewhere that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Thus, Ellen White states the following regarding the intercession of Christ in heaven relative to sins of ignorance:

 

The minds of all who embrace this message are directed to the most holy place, where Jesus stands before the ark, making His final intercession for all those for whom mercy still lingers and for those who have ignorantly broken the law of God. This atonement is made for the righteous dead as well as for the righteous living. It includes all who died trusting in Christ, but who, not having received the light upon God’s commandments, had sinned ignorantly in transgressing its precepts.[61]

 

Roman Catholic Theology?

 

Those who have lately insisted that justification is solely declarative and not at all transformative[62] believe their position to be that of the Protestant Reformers,[63] and hold that those Adventists who differ with them on this point are taking the position of the Roman Catholic Church against the Reformation.[64] The distinction drawn by recent critics of Last Generation Theology between Catholic and Protestant salvation theology is described, in the words of one quoted scholar, as “a focus on ‘the distinction between infused righteousness and imputed righteousness.’”[65]

 

Though this allegation regarding the transformative view of justification has been heard a number of times in certain segments of modern Adventism,[66] it is totally misguided. Only one inspired commentator on the issues of the Reformation exists, and her name is Ellen G. White. Here is her description of the issue between Martin Luther and the papacy:

 

Many of his (Luther’s) own congregation had purchased certificates of pardon, and they soon began to come to their pastor, confessing their various sins, and expecting absolution, not because they were penitent and wished to reform, but on the ground of the indulgence. Luther refused them absolution, and warned them that unless they should repent and reform their lives, they must perish in their sins. . . .

Luther now entered boldly upon his work as a champion of the truth. His voice was heard from the pulpit in earnest, solemn warning. He set before the people the offensive character of sin, and taught them that it is impossible for man, by his own works, to lessen its guilt or evade its punishment. Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ can save the sinner.[67]

 

Let us remember that elsewhere in the writings of Ellen White, “Repentance includes sorrow for sin, and a turning away from it.”[68] Notice how, according to the inspired pen, the problem with Catholic teachings is not that repentance and reformation of life are necessary in order to receive God’s forgiveness, but rather, that compliance with human rituals and stipulations (e.g. the purchase of indulgences) make one eligible for forgiveness. According to Ellen White’s inspired commentary, this was the issue that split Christendom in the sixteenth century. No tug-of-war between forensic righteousness and the work of the Holy Spirit is cited by the inspired pen as the cause of this pivotal event in Christian history.

 

Legalism and “Works-Righteousness” as Defined by the Inspired Pen

 

What then does Paul mean when he says God imputes righteousness to us “without works” (Rom. 4:6)? As we noted before, he is speaking of the self-motivated, superficial, boastful works depicted in earlier chapters of this epistle, performed in the absence of conversion (Rom. 2:17-23). Obviously, “without works” doesn’t mean without the transforming work of the Holy Spirit or humanity’s Spirit-empowered cooperation with that work (Phil. 2:12-13), for only that work accomplished and empowered by God is capable of making a person fulfill the Biblical conditions for receiving divine pardon—a guileless spirit (Psalm 32:2), humility (II Chron. 7:14), the forsaking of sin (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7), and a willingness to forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15).

 

The self-generated nature of the “works” Paul disconnects from human salvation is especially clear in Ephesians 2, where the phrase “not of yourselves” is parallel to the phrase “not of works” (verses 8-9). The fact that Paul goes on to say, “lest any man should boast” (verse 9) further clarifies the kind of works Paul is talking about—the kind of hypocritical, surface piety that produces boasting (Rom. 2:17-23), as distinct from the Spirit-empowered obedience that generates meekness (Gal. 5:22-23). The former can save no one. The latter, as we have seen, form a key component of the conditions of Biblical salvation.

 

In commenting on the story of the rich young ruler, Ellen White distinguishes the obedience Christ noted as the condition of salvation from the superficial “legal obedience” that God will not accept:

 

God has given us the rule of conduct which every one of His servants must follow. It is obedience to His law, not merely a legal obedience, but an obedience which enters into the life and is exemplified in the character.[69]

 

In over 50 references Ellen White uses the term “legal religion.” The following statements are typical so far as her definition of this phrase is concerned:

 

He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility. There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness.[70]

 

The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength.[71]

 

High pretensions, forms, and ceremonies, however imposing, do not make the heart good and the character pure. True love for God is an active principle, a purifying agency. The scribes and the Pharisees appeared to be very punctilious in living out the letter of the law, but Christ said to His disciples, ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ What a startling declaration was this! It made manifest the insufficiency of legal or natural religion, and showed the need of moral renovation and the necessity of divine enlightenment. . . . They (the Jews) were very particular to practice circumcision, but they did not teach the necessity of having a pure heart. They exalted the commandments of God in words, but refused to exalt them in practice; and their religion was only a stumbling-block to men.[72]

 

Ministers preaching present truth will assent to the necessity of the influence of the Spirit of God in the conviction of sin and the conversion of souls, and this influence must attend the preaching of the Word, but they do not feel its importance sufficiently to have a deep and practical knowledge of the same. The scantiness of the grace and power of the divine influence of the truth upon their own hearts prevents them from discerning spiritual things and from presenting its positive necessity upon the church. So they go crippling along, dwarfed in religious growth, because they have in their ministry a legal religion. The power of the grace of God is not felt to be a living, effectual necessity, an abiding principle.[73]

 

‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.’ These have not a mere nominal faith, a theory of truth, a legal religion, but they believe to a purpose, appropriating to themselves the richest gifts of God.[74]

 

Notice that none of these statements define legalism or legal religion as trusting the Holy Spirit’s transforming power for acceptance with God. Regeneration and sanctification stand far removed from the surface piety condemned in the above statements. Never do either Scripture or the writings of Ellen White equate legalism and works-righteousness with trusting the cooperation of divine and human effort for salvation (see Phil. 2:12-13; Col. 1:28-29).

 

Human Deficiency and the Merits of Christ

 

In God’s ledger, there is no such thing as human merit. This is because everything we possess comes from Him. One of the strongest Bible passages on righteousness by faith is the statement King David made in his final prayer before Israel: “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee” (I Chron. 29:14). Ellen White quotes this verse three times within several pages in explaining why “creature merit” is impossible.[75]

 

But creature merit is entirely different from the Creator’s merit, which in Ellen White’s vocabulary is just another term for Christ’s righteousness. And Ellen White is clear that the merits of Christ are not only imputed to the believer but imparted as well. Such statements as the following make this clear:

 

Becoming partakers of His divine nature, we are to learn to discern the temptations of Satan, and, in the strength of His grace, overcome the corruptions that are in the world through lust. He who was once a sinful human being may be refined and purified through the imparted merits of Christ, and stand before his fellow men as a laborer together with God.[76]

 

The more we contemplate these riches, the more we will come into possession of them, and the more we shall reveal the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, the protection of His righteousness, His inexpressible love, the fullness of His wisdom, and His power to present us before the Father without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.[77]

 

When the law of God is thus implanted in the soul of the believer, he is approaching eternal life through the merits of Jesus. . . .Here in this life is the testing, trying time. The angels of God are watching the development of character, and weighing moral worth. The whole question is settled in this, Is he obedient or disobedient to the commandments of God? has the sinner been transformed in this world, through the merits of Christ, so that he is fitted to join the heavenly society?[78]

 

Through the merits of Christ man may be able to exercise the noblest powers of his being, and expel sin from the soul.[79]

 

Through the merits of His blood, you may overcome every spiritual foe, and remedy every defect of character.[80]

 

Earlier in this article we quoted a contemporary Adventist author who claims that “spiritual transformation . . . has no salvation merit.”[81] The above Ellen White statements are clear that this is not so. All of Christ’s righteousness, sanctifying as well as justifying, possesses saving merit, for the simple reason that it all comes from the same divine Source.

 

With this principle in mind, we need to consider an Ellen White statement that is very popular among critics of Last Generation Theology, which speaks of the words and actions of true believers requiring purification by the merits of Christ:

 

The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confessions of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God’s right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ’s propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned.[82]

 

It is assumed that the blood-purification described in this passage is forensic, making legally pure what in a practical, spiritual sense remains faulty and impure.

 

But as we noted in the first article of this series, “The testimonies themselves will be the key that will explain the messages given, as scripture is explained by scripture.”[83] Other Ellen White statements using the same or similar language to the above, depict this cleansing by Jesus’ blood and merit as internal and practical, not forensic:

 

Before the believer is held out the wonderful possibility of being like Christ, obedient to all the principles of the law. But of himself man is utterly unable to reach this condition. The holiness that God’s Word declares he must have before he can be saved is the result of the working of divine grace as he bows in submission to the discipline and restraining influence of the Spirit of truth. Man’s obedience can be made perfect only by the incense of Christ’s righteousness, which fills with divine fragrance every act of obedience.[84]

 

Shall we not, then, give to Christ that which He has died to redeem? If you will do this, He will quicken your conscience, renew your heart, sanctify your affections, purify your thoughts, and set all your powers to work for Him. Every motive and every thought will be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ.

Those who are sons of God will represent Christ in character. Their works will be perfumed by the infinite tenderness, compassion, love, and purity of the Son of God. And the more completely mind and body are yielded to the Holy Spirit, the greater will be the fragrance of our offering to Him.[85]

 

Man is permitted to handle the Lord’s goods. Thus he is tested and proved. His heart must be perfumed with the incense of Christ’s righteousness, the Saviour must work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.[86]

 

If our perceptions could be quickened to take in this wonderful work of our Saviour for our salvation, love, deep and ardent, would burn in our hearts. Our apathy and cold indifference would then alarm us. Entire devotion and benevolence, prompted by grateful love, will impart to the smallest offering, the willing sacrifice, a divine fragrance, making the gift of priceless value. But, after willingly yielding to our Redeemer all that we can bestow, be it ever so valuable to us, if we view our debt of gratitude to God as it really is, all that we may have offered will seem to us very insufficient and meager. But angels take these offerings, which to us seem poor, and present them as a fragrant offering before the throne, and they are accepted.[87]

 

The offering that is made to God without a spirit of reverence and gratitude, He does not accept. It is the humble, grateful, reverential heart that makes the offering as a sweet-smelling savor, acceptable to God.[88]

 

In another statement, she writes that “the merit of Jesus must be mingled with our prayers and efforts, or they are as worthless as was the offering of Cain. Could we see all the activity of human instrumentality, as it appears before God, we would see that only the work accomplished by much prayer, which is sanctified by the merit of Christ, will stand the test of the judgment.”[89]

 

Speaking of the consecration essential for gospel workers, she declares:

 

There is none too much of any of the workers, be they possessed of large or small talents, to render themselves to God that they may be sanctified and fitted for His service. Give all you have and are, and it is all nothing without the merit of the blood that sanctifies the gift. Could those who hold responsible positions multiply their talents a thousandfold, their service would have no worth before God unless Christ was mingled with all their offerings.[90]

 

Only the work accomplished with much prayer, and sanctified by the merit of Christ, will in the end prove to have been efficient for good.[91]

 

Though the earlier “corrupt channels” statement is quoted repeatedly in a recent book attacking Last Generation Theology,[92] no consideration is given to the use of this language elsewhere in Ellen White’s writings, as seen in the above statements and others. Quite obviously, the process here described is not forensic, but internal and transformative. Ellen White doesn’t say our prayers, efforts, and talents need to be justified by the merit of Christ, but sanctified. Never does she state, as does the book cited above, that “even our good deeds need forgiveness.”[93] Our prayers and praise and obedience ascend through our corrupt human channels to the heavenly sanctuary, but if we place all the above statements together, it is while our words and deeds ascend through those channels—not when they get to heaven—that they receive purification.

 

Conclusion: “His Bride Has Made Herself Ready”

 

Finally, perhaps the most beautiful metaphor involving Christ and the saving of His church is the one found in Revelation 19, verses 7 and 8:

 

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints (NIV).

 

Modern translations, like the New International Version, cited above, render this passage with greater clarity than the King James Version, where the last phrase simply reads: “the righteousness of saints.” But the Greek word dikaomata, translated “righteousness” in the KJV, is a more explicit reference to righteous actions than dikaosune, the usual word for righteousness in the New Testament. This is why such translations as the Revised Standard and New International Versions use such phrases as “righteous deeds” and “righteous acts” in their rendering of this word as it is used in Revelation 19.

 

Ellen White identifies this wedding garment, worn by the bride of Christ, with imparted righteousness—which, as our study has shown, is equated with sanctification in Ellen White’s writings.[94] The following Ellen White statements reaffirm the identification of the wedding garment in Revelation 19 with righteous deeds made possible through sanctification:

By the wedding garment in the parable is represented the pure, spotless character which Christ’s true followers will possess. . . . It is the righteousness of Christ, His own unblemished character, that through faith is imparted to all who receive Him as their personal Saviour. . . . Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us. ‘All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.’ (Isa. 64:6). Everything that we of ourselves can do is defiled by sin. But the Son of God “was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him is no sin.” Sin is defined to be “the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:5, 4. But Christ was obedient to every requirement of the law. . . . By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God’s commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garments of His righteousness.[95]

 

The True Witness counsels us to buy of Him gold tried in the fire, white raiment, and eyesalve. The gold here recommended as having been tried in the fire, is faith and love. It makes the heart rich, for it has been purged until it is pure, and the more it is tested the more brilliant is its luster. The white raiment is purity of character, the righteousness of Christ imparted to the sinner.[96]

Anyone who has ever been in a wedding, or gotten ready for one, can appreciate all that is embodied in the phrase, “His bride has made herself ready.” Wedding preparations are among the most exhausting and stressful of activities. Lengthy lists of things to do fill the weeks and months prior to the ceremony. Nerves and spirits are sorely tried as deadlines converge and the great day approaches. Expectations may turn to disappointment as family, friends, and others responsible for various features of the event fall short of what is desired. The final seventy-two hours can be particularly vexing for all parties concerned, most of all for the bride and groom.

 

But through it all, the lovers savor increasing joy as the moment of ultimate oneness draws near. The wearisome labor, time consumed, and occasional frustrations mean little to them, much as Jacob’s years of service for Rachel “seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her” (Gen. 29:20).

 

Popular “righteousness by faith” promoters and opponents of perfection theology in modern Adventism often attack the notion of “checklist” religion.[97] Yet what bride and groom, getting ready for a wedding, don’t have a checklist? The point is, it is a checklist they peruse with joy, despite grueling days and sleepless nights. All they must do and endure is done and endured with delight, because of the love they cherish and the intimacy that will soon be theirs. Such will be the experience of God’s people as they prepare for translation.

 

The next installment in this series will be titled, “Biblical Atonement: Its Nature and Timing.”

Click here to read the rest of this series on Last Generation theology.

______

Notes.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts are from the King James Version.

[2] Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 679.

[3] Review and Herald, June 26, 1900.

[4] Signs of the Times, Nov. 24, 1887.

[5] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 920.

[6] Ibid, p. 972.

[7] This Day With God, p. 72.

[8] Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 561.

[9] Review and Herald, July 22, 1890.

[10] Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 694.

[11] Signs of the Times, Nov. 15, 1899.

[12] From the Heart, p. 181.

[13] Manuscript Releases, vol. 18, pp. 73-74.

[14] Review and Herald, Oct. 26, 1897.

[15] Signs of the Times, Dec. 15, 1887.

[16] Christian Service, p. 96.

[17] Bible Echo, Dec. 9, 1895.

[18] Steps to Christ, pp. 62-63.

[19] Ibid, p. 63.

[20] Ibid (italics supplied).

[21] Ibid, p. 62.

[22] Adelina Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 6: Biblical Perspectives: Sin,” May 30, 2019.

[23]Last Generation Theology, Part 7: Biblical Perspectives: Justification,” June 7, 2019.

[24] Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), p. 98.

[25] White, Steps to Christ, p. 63.

[26] The Desire of Ages, p. 300.

[27] Messages to Young People, p. 35.

[28] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 86.

[29] Martin F. Hanna, Darius W. Jankewicz, and John W. Reeve (eds.), Salvation: Contours of Adventist Soteriology (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2018), pp. 405-406.

[30] White, Messages to Young People, p. 35.

[31] Faith and Works, p. 118.

[32] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1103.

[33] Sons and Daughters of God, p. 45.

[34] Signs of the Times, Dec. 15, 1887.

[35] Review and Herald, May 3, 1898.

[36] Signs of the Times, Dec. 28, 1891.

[37] Counsels on Health, p. 51.

[38] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 86.

[39] White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 366.

[40] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 83.

[41] Ibid, p. 69.

[42] White, Education, p. 254.

[43] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1070.

[44] Review and Herald, Aug. 19, 1890.

[45] Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 96.

[46] Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 114 (italics original).

[47] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1098; see also Sons and Daughters of God, p. 346; The Upward Look, p. 328.

[48] That I May Know Him, p. 336.

[49] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 13: Biblical Perspectives: Final Thoughts,” July 19, 2019.

[50]Last Generation Theology, Part 7: Biblical Perspectives: Justification,” June 7, 2019.

[51] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 86.

[52] White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 366.

[53] Ibid, p. 397.

[54] J. Robert Spangler, “Ask the Editor,” Ministry, October 1978, p. 11.

[55] Colin Cook, “Which Door to Heaven?” These Times, September 1979, p. 14.

[56] Keavin Hayden, Lifestyles of the Remnant (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 2001), p. 24; see also J. David Newman, “Can I Know I’m Saved?” Adventist Review, Aug. 24, 2006, p. 26.

[57] White, Steps to Christ, p. 62 (italics supplied).

[58] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1092 (italics supplied).

[59] The Desire of Ages, p. 762 (italics supplied).

[60] Signs of the Times, Dec. 15, 1887 (italics supplied).

[61] Early Writings, p. 254.

[62] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, pp. 59-61,66-69,80-83.

[63] Ibid, pp. 59-62.

[64] Ibid, pp. 64-65.

[65] Ibid, p. 61.

[66] See Raoul Dederen, “Sanctification and the Final Judgment,” Ministry, May 1978, p. 11; Martin Weber, More Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1992), pp. 39-52; Woodrow W. Whidden II, “The Antichrist: Is the Adventist Interpretation Still Viable?” Adventist Review, May 25, 2000, p. 11.

[67] White, The Great Controversy, pp. 128-129.

[68] Steps to Christ, p. 23.

[69] The Desire of Ages, p. 523; see also Youth’s Instructor, May 27, 1897.

[70] The Desire of Ages, p. 172.

[71] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1077.

[72] Review and Herald, April 30, 1895.

[73] Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 189.

[74] Testimonies to Ministers, p. 94.

[75] Faith and Works, pp. 20-23.

[76] This Day With God, p. 151; see also Signs of the Times, Feb. 17, 1909.

[77] In Heavenly Places, p. 34.

[78] Sons and Daughters of God, p. 50.

[79] This Day With God, p. 124.

[80] Sons and Daughters of God, p. 227.

[81] Alexe, “Last Generation Theology, Part 6: Biblical Perspectives: Sin,” May 30, 2019.

[82] Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 344.

[83] Ibid, p. 42.

[84] Acts of the Apostles, p. 532 (italics supplied).

[85] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 909 (italics supplied).

[86] Review and Herald, Nov. 26, 1901 (italics supplied).

[87] Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 396-397.

[88] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118.

[89] Christian Service, p. 263 (italics supplied).

[90] Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, p. 337 (italics supplied).

[91] The Desire of Ages, p. 362 (italics supplied).

[92] Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, pp. 57,76,85,111,198-199,262,269,280,286.

[93] Ibid, p. 262; see also Martin Weber, More Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1992, p. 51.

[94] White, Messages to Young People, p. 35.

[95] Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 310-312 (italics supplied).

[96] Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 88 (italics supplied).

[97] See Edward Heppenstall, “Let Us Go On to Perfection,” Perfection: The Impossible Possibility (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn, 1975), p. 69.

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About the author

Kevin Paulson

Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and serves as a script writer for the It Is Written television ministry and other media ministries within the church. He also serves as the leading webmaster of ADvindicate.com, where many articles by him and others can be found which address a variety of denominational issues. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.